The Chinese aggression on Sikkim frontier has caused panic in the north-eastern region, where the memories of 1962 war still haunt the people. The “lessons from past” that China has reminded India in an oblique reference to the latter’s humiliating defeat in that war are very vivid for the North-east, especially the present Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Recent developments right from Indian soldiers stopping the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to the PLA destroying two old bunkers of the Indian Army, have left the region’s people worried much more than the rest of the region. The tri-junction between India, China and Bhutan, the current centre of hostility, is not very far from the infamous Chicken Neck. The only 22-km-wide corridor that connects the North-east with the country is a strategically sensitive region. Any eventuality that leads to India’s loss of control over the small patch of land could mean blockade of supply to the entire seven states of the region.
The growing hostility on the Sikkim border has left common Indians and especially north-easterners guessing as to what has gone wrong all of a sudden. China said the trigger was Indian Army blocking the construction of a road inside ‘Chinese territory’. However, India maintained the land falls along the Bhutan-China border where latter violated an agreed ‘status quo’ by constructing the road. Almost all historians blamed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for his ‘forward policy’ that upset China leading to the 1962 war. But that was not known until many years after the war. What people knew was that China attacked India and captured Tawang in Arunachal and almost came up to Tezpur in Assam. Thanks to the secretive nature of defence information – and rightly so – nobody for sure knew what is exactly prompting the alarming stand-off on the Himalayas.
There could be many external factors fueling the troops behaviour along the border while there could be more to deescalate them to avoid a war. The obvious recent development that could disturb China is the bonhomie between US President Donald Trump and Narendra Modi. India has reasoned Bhutan’s formal objection to China about building of the road in Dok La area. However, the Big Brother (India) can influence Bhutan’s diplomatic activities, as China always alleges. Then, China went too far by destroying two old bunkers on the Indian side. But, does it mean China wants this escalation to go further? There are enough reasons not to do so, the country’s enormous and growing trade activities in India being one of them. And, there is no apparent reason that India wants this to go any further except for guarding its boundary with utmost strength.
(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on July 1, 2017)